Week Four (Wed, 2/9): Self-Shaping Technologies

(w/ thanks to kgould for plastic surgery as performance art!)

I. (Anne) coursekeeping

welcome to Kim Surkan!

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today's notetakers: Hillary G. and J.Yoo

couple of exciting extra-curriculars later today:
@ 5:30 in PARK 180: Katie Baratz Dalke talking to the
postbacs about (personal and professional) intersex

@ 7:30 in THOMAS 224: Philosophy Dept. Colloquium--
"Feminism and Multiculturalism Revisited:
French Feminism and the Ni Putes Ni Soumises Movement":
Ni Putes Ni Soumises (NPNS) rose to prominence in 2002 protesting conditions for women in France’s disadvantaged neighborhoods and demanding equality for women both personally and politically. The movement’s positions have been highly controversial, however, alienating some men in France’s immigrant communities by criticizing the sexism of everyday life in the banlieues, and alienating some feminists by supporting the ban on headscarves and other religious symbols in schools. This paper uses NPNS as a case study to return to the vexed question of whether multiculturalist politics are good or bad for women. I argue that the question is wrongly framed as a tension between a liberal value of universal equality and a particularist discourse of difference. The more pressing problem for feminism may well be the much older tension between theory and practice. Paying greater attention to transnational feminist movement not only allows us to reframe this issue but to create greater theoretical and practical solidarity among feminists with different ideological commitments.

either one might prove a great source for what you have
due by midnight this Friday: your first web project
Reminder: if you choose not to submit a paper this round
(you only have to meet 3 of the 4 deadlines)
you should make a forum posting as usual.


On Monday,  we will be ending the first section of the course, on
As we make that move, we will take some time to process where we have been, in the spirit of our practice of dialogue, by asking each of you to share a comment about where you are. Please come to class ready to do that.

We will then begin the second section of the course: THE SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY OF INFORMATION:

For that discussion, please read two short pieces on Serendip:
Katherine Rowe, "What is Information? Comparing Our Conceptual Maps and Investments."  Brown Bag Lunch on "Information, Meaning and Noise: What's the Difference?" January 29, 2004.

Paul Grobstein, "Information Update: Searching for the Third Law." Brown Bag Lunch Series on "Information, Meaning and Noise: What's the Difference?" April 29, 2004.


II. Before we go forward, going back a bit to our postings
Franklin20: humans are naturally categorizing creatures.  We group things and we notice which things are similar and which things are different than us...children instinctually form ingroup preferences. 

J.Yoo: Humans are geared towards classifying things: it's how we learn and understand.  Label-less things are lumped into a group with other label-less things, most of which are generally overlooked....we don't have a scale for things yet because we're not ready, possibly because we can't understand.  And we might not ever, but throwing out labels and forcing everyone into one, androgenous category is not the answer.

aybala50: we can't get rid of categories. Our nervous system is based on pattern formation. On a purely biological level we work by making categories.

kelliott: Are we wired to think in categories--to seek out structure .... categorization is an essential part of learning. It is a process that allows us to figure out what things "belong together"...when these similar "things" get the same response, they form a class. Categorization is... about the ways in which different stimuli occasion responses....However...there are ways in which we can re-wire the brain

Apo: After thinking...and reading...I've had a slight change in heart....In ADDITION to educating people, I think we have to also deal with high levels of impoverished communities and Popular Culture.... I don't mean to be a super pessimist but ....to state education is the answer is too broad of an accusation, too simple a solution, and releases us from our responsibility to be decent towards each other too quickly.

fawei: In class I said something about not going for the ‘extremes’ of the argument, but after thinking about it, this is garbage- we already live in that kind of society, based on class systems that have probably caused irreparable damage and make total acceptance impossible....Being ‘different’ relies on their being a category of ‘normal'....It would take some kind of extreme law to enforce a new, classless ideology. But then there are the ethical limitations to the ways you can enforce change in both action and thinking. This kind of thing is apparent in a lot of dystopian stories....These are lousy bitter sentiments...how I feel by the end of every class

If these "alternative" genders and sexualities in the animal world are so common, then why is it that I've never heard of them before?...This problem of not knowing enough makes me feel as if I am unqualified to make [temporary] opinions because they will probably change with the more I know.

lemirella: I thought it was really interesting that we started off (after having read Haraway) somewhat agreeing that humans shouldn't categorize themselves and then later on, switching back to wanting to have binaries and labels. While the idea of having a labeless world seems ideal in certain instances, the threat of not having them means that we can no longer define ourselves. So is it really possible to play a game of identity strip poker where we strip away all of the little parts that make up our identity such as our gender and race?...I don't think so....

cara:  what steps can we take to ensure that this lack of labels and categories doesn't become a reformulated version of the idea of racial equality through 'colorblindness'?  Does the act of removing labels force the idea that we must ignore differences in order to get along? Without labels, would our minds still default to a set of characteristics that make up the 'norm' of what we expect in a person? This raises the question: When, if ever, does removing labels turn into removing diversity?

III. (Liz): What about the act of "removing diversity" that is self-shaping surgery"? Here we are thinking about a wide range of such procedures...

Let’s see what the patterns were, from our 'voting' on Monday, and think some more together about the way these various procedures shape gender, and our own investments in/critiques of these activities.

IV. (Kim Surkan): on the MIT class, and
gender passing, and the performance of identity, and...
V. (Anne): Discussing our reactions to the readings

Parens on Surgically Shaping children:
we have disordered social practices, not disordered bodies!
debates about self-shaping technologies:
a worry that--in using technologies to transform identities--
individuals are becoming "inauthentic"
how to balance parental obligations to let children "be," and to "shape" them?
what are the costs to the child of surgeries to "make others feel better"?
on the fuzzy distinction between physiological and psychosocial functioning
is technology "morally neutral," or does it (as per
Heidegger) offer a "particular way of revealing things"?
in which things are "set upon" and "challenged forth," their particularity erased, as they are made "anonymous and interchangeable"?
do we treat the child's body as raw material, made
to be shaped to the "natural," "normal," "orderly"?
cf. "consumer-protection bioethics" w/ the "Socratic" form,
which attends to the connections between practices and people
(or: no decisions are individual)
since desire for normalcy=desirability=recognition,
it is our responsibility to establish new norms (=atypical anatomies)
(and so resolve the) tension between the master narrative of
the "scientific fix" and the need to affirm human variation 
interesting tension between intersex activism (to stop gender normalizing surgeries) and transgender activism (to increase the availability of precisely such surgeries)

Hausman on Transsexualism and Technology
emergence of transsexualism dependent on technological
developments in endocrinology and plastic surgery
transsexualism as a "disorder of gender identity"
is a cover-up for the more threatening idea that
transsexuals are subjects who choose to engineer themselves
(an engineering that is dependent on medical intervention)
critique of cultural feminists:
this is buying into cultural, "essentialist" norms of "woman";
cf. Teresa de Lauretis' argument that gender
is the product of various social technologies:
gender is a technology, a cultural construction (techne= an "art")
consider also transgenders who choose partial sex change/performance:
an implicit repudiation of binary gender system, disobedient to bipolar heterosexual framework, "transgressively gendered"
paradox of transsexuality: technological intervention is necessary to realize the being of the transsexual subject, not an intervention but the rectification of an unnatural situation

Turkle on Tinysex and Gender Trouble
on-line gender-swapping, virtual cross-dressing
Jamesian/Shakespearean "art of imagining alternatives":
an action-based philosophical practice/
a form of consciousness-raising about gender issues/
anthropological depaysement ("decountrifying" oneself
in fieldwork/ returning home to find it strange)
boundary status of cyberfantasies? accountability?
cultural criticism of these practices: utopian, utilitarian, and apocalyptic

So: let's put these folks into conversation w/ one another, w/ our earlier writers, w/ ourselves, w/ the data we've generated about our willingness to put ourselves "under the knife," to pay for others to go under. What do you think about these ideas?

* "Grace is the virtue of living with with what cannot be fixed; resisting fantasies of repair or restitution, and accepting the limits of one's own effectiveness....We need to beware of thinking of our bodies as mere stuff, which we can put to whatever purposes we see fit." (Parens)

* "One cannot escape gender by switching roles or performances....because the binary logic defines the possibility of switching in the first place....Is voluntaristic gender play...an effective way to reconfigure 'gender' as a system of disciplinary regulation?" (Hausman)

*  "Who and what am I? What is the connection between my physical and virtual bodies? What is the nature of our social ties? What kind of accountability do we have for our actions in real life and in cyberspace?" (Turkle)


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